10 Best Body Horror Movies of All Time, Ranked – MovieWeb

Body Horror is a genre that makes a spectacle of flesh. From Titane to The Thing, these are the best all of time.
Body horror uses the terror of mutation, body dysphoria, mutilation, and dismemberment to not only shock, but to also tell us something about ourselves. Whether it be the current state of political affairs, societal limits on controlling humans' primal urges, and all things we lay to rest deep in our unconscious. The body horror film is elemental and deepens its terrors with practical effects often putting digital technology to the side. Instead, showing us man at its worst and rectifying a society's fear of itself.
David Cronenberg is a master of the genre, as is John Carpenter, having built a stellar filmography throughout the decades, sharpening their wits and use of violence as technology grows. The two remain the same voice but never repeat themselves. The 1980s are a genre at the peak of its power, but lately, the horror industry is growing and has been a model of success for Hollywood. With new directors ingratiating their work, like Julia Ducournau of France, these are 10 of the best body horror films.
Sex and violence are always intrinsically linked in the works of Cronenberg. So, using his panache for body horror to literalize and warn against the terror of screens seemed like a natural world for the director to inhabit. Casting the fiery James Woods as the desperate TV producer to take the audience down the rabbit hole of taboos, secret television shows, and conspiracy broadcasts was a perfect choice. With some unforgettable analog effects, like the remote control arm, Cronenberg used horror to Trojan horse his political ideology most effectually delivering another disgusting tale in Videodrome.
Related: Best Body Horror Films of the '80s, Ranked
Brian Yuzna takes all the sheen of sun-soaked suburbia, 80s excess, and wealthy socialites and turns it into a perverse nightmare. Taking the paranoia we all have of secret societies, what the other side of the coin may look like, and the utter disdain some have for the better-off, instead, it's a body horror nightmare. As a young kid, Billy goes deeper into his parent's social life, attempting to create a life for himself after high school, and discovers something psychotic and horrifying. Yuzna offers up one of the most terrifying conclusions of the 80s and goes full body dysphoria. Society is a surreal and visceral experience.
French filmmaker Julia Ducournau's debut film Raw announced a major talent to the world of cinema and her follow-up, the Palme d’Or winning Titane, made clear she's just getting started. An evocative tale of body horror by way of fusing the body with heavy metal engineering, Ducournau sets out to shock but also soften the blow of the body terror with its huge heart. Pushing her ability to show the malleability of the human flesh and how we relate to one another, Titane features two brilliantly empathetic and beautifully broken performances from Vincent Lindon and Agathe Rouselle. As the two become an odd-paring after Agathe goes on the run for murder, the body becomes transgressed, repressed, and then freed.
The mad scientist is the perfect vessel for body horror. Moving at a breakneck speed, Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator indulges all the 80s analog viscera to hilarious and grotesque ends. As a group of college students gets mixed up in experimental drugs that begin to reanimate dead tissue and bodies, the Frankenstein of it all comes in murderously explicit ways. Indulging in total primal disgust, the severed heads that talk and the naked bodies begin to mix for a deliriously entertaining divergent into body terror.
In only his second film, Ridley Scott would prove to be a director of massive talent and intellect, and show a passion for ingenuity that would only push the craft forward as well as influence every film to come after. Alien is not only a story that combines great character arcs, including the one of its lead Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), special effects, and cinematography, but the dread which hangs over every frame of the film throughout is unmatched, even today. Alien is an iconic film and one of the greatest in the sci-fi body horror genre.
An amalgamation of ideas about birth, suffering, human consciousness, and life after death shuffled through the lens of psychedelics by way of the clichéd mad scientist, Altered States is a death-defying spectacle from British auteur, Ken Russell. Based on the script by Paddy Chayefsky, William Hurt plays the scientist who discovers a mind-altering drug that could lead to new questions and answers about the human spirit and mind. The journey leads him to self-revelation and a mutated body. The genuine curiosity of the script gives Hurt the ability to create a human performance. Russell indulges those anxieties about life after death and being terrified of your birth to its grisly body-horror extremes.
Related: How Body Horror Movies Elucidate the Trans Experience and Gender Dysphoria
A bare-bones idea taken to its most disgusting, hilarious, and modifying endpoints, the experimental Japanese film is like the final 20 minutes of Akira stretched into a 65-minute sensory experience. Tetsuo: The Iron Man gets its moody visual ordeals from director Shinya Tsukamoto, who shot the film on 16mm emulsion, to heighten the sense of surreal terror. As a man becomes deeply forged to the industrialization of his town, he becomes a part machine, tearing his body apart and ruining his relationship with humanity.
The great auteur of the zombie film, George A. Romero does more than just bring out the undead, but finds ways to take the horror of being torn from flesh and funnel it into great philosophical questions about the psyche of America. In 1985, with Day of The Dead, Romero and legendary make-up artist Tom Savini created a gory, psychological nightmare that questioned the growing ires of the military-industrial complex under the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Using a team of scientists, civilians, and agitated military men, Romero showed an America at odds, as the people slowly combust long before the zombies come.
A film so brutal and disgusting, it's near impossible to look away. So mesmerizingly audacious that one would likely want it stricken from their memory, but the experience will have so seeped into your bones, it’ll never leave. Cronenberg’s The Fly took body horror and animatronics to their extremes for the sake of human ambition. Jeff Goldblum stars as Dr. Seth Brundle, the scientist who pushes the human body to its limits for the sake of knowledge and his morbid curiosity. As Dr. Brundle accidentally transfers genes with an insect that will mutate his body beyond repair, the fallout becomes catastrophic for his health and those who love him. The Fly is a terrifyingly chilling film that will always be one of Cronenberg's best.
King of the horror film in the 1980s, Carpenter’s The Thing is a feat of editing, practical effects, and his keen sense of creating an atmosphere of paranoia. Locking a crew of research scientists in the heart of the Arctic as an unknown alien presence infiltrates their grounds, imitating and copying any flesh it comes into contact with, Carpenter created a pillar of the body horror genre. As Kurt Russell and Keith David navigate the crew's paranoia and their suspicion of who controls the power dynamics, The Thing slowly devolves into a body horror gore fest where no one is to be trusted.
Erik Nielsen is a working writer and photographer living in NYC. His writing on film has been published in the online film magazines The Film Stage and Little White Lies. While his writing on photography has been published in The Independent and Musèe Magazine. As a photographer, you can find Erik’s work in places like Pitchfork, Juxtaprose, the NY Post, and The Daily News.


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